03/12/2010 1:00AM

Lookin At Lucky experimenting in Rebel


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The Kentucky Derby is seven weeks away, but horseplayers will get a sneak peek at three of its highest-profile candidates when Lookin At Lucky, the champion 2-year-old of 2009, and Grade 1 winners Dublin and Noble's Promise meet Saturday in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.

The trio makes for perhaps the strongest Derby prep so far this season. The $300,000 Rebel is the final local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby and drew a field of seven. Others set to start in the 1 1/16-mile race are Uh Oh Bango, who is making his first start since finishing second to top Kentucky Derby prospect Rule in the Grade 3, $750,000 Delta Jackpot in December; Cardiff Giant and Pleasant Storm, who exit the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest at Oaklawn in February; and Royal Express, a front-running sprint stakes winner who invades from Fair Grounds.

Lookin At Lucky is the first 2-year-old champion to run at Oaklawn as a 3-year-old since Answer Lively in 1999. The Rebel is the starting point to his season, and it will mark his first race outside of Southern California, his first start on dirt, and his first out in blinkers.

"This is going to be an experimental race," said Bob Baffert, who trains Lookin At Lucky for Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. "I'm only allowed one experimental race, and it's got to be right now. We'll see how he handles the dirt and the ship. There's a lot of things involved. We'll find out a lot about him."

Lookin At Lucky won 5 of 6 starts during his championship season, which began last July with a maiden special weight win at Hollywood Park. He proceeded to take the Grade 2 Best Pal, the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, and the Grade 1 Norfolk. That record made Lookin At Lucky the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and he missed by a head after breaking from post 13.

Lookin At Lucky raced one more time following that start and was a three-quarter-length winner over Noble's Promise in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19 at Hollywood Park.

"He doesn't need a lot, this horse," Baffert said. "He stays pretty fit.

"This race will help him a lot."

Garrett Gomez has the mount from post 2.

Lookin At Lucky closed as the 9-1 second choice among individual interests behind Eskendereya in last weekend's Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool. Dublin, who was third choice at 10-1, will bring the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure into the Rebel. He earned a 96 last month for his runner-up finish to Conveyance in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes.

Dublin stumbled at the start and found himself 12 lengths back, but put in a strong bid in the one-mile race, which ended at the sixteenth pole, as do all one-mile races at Oaklawn.

"That was an unbelievable run from the half-mile pole to the wire, especially on a short stretch, where you've got a 230- or 240-yard stretch," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Dublin for Robert Baker and William Mack.

The race was Dublin's first start of the year, and his first following minor throat surgery. The winner of last year's Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga, he is the top 3-year-old based at Oaklawn. Lukas said he likes how the horse is coming up to his second start of 2010.

"I do think he'll move forward," said Lukas, who has won the Kentucky Derby four times.

"He's actually a little ahead of where I think he would be normally. I'm probably more comfortable with him in early March than I've been with any of my Derby horses, just because of the combination of his mental state, the way he's training, his natural ability."

Corey Nakatani will ride from post 7.

Noble's Promise, winner of last year's Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, is out to turn the tables on Lookin At Lucky after finishing second following a wide trip in the CashCall, his most recent race.

"He's fit; he had a nice foundation as a 2-year-old," said Ken McPeek, who trains Noble's Promise. "We rested him, gave him a month off, nothing more than a little time to fill out, and he did that.

"I don't think this is going to be his best race for us. It should be a good race [but] his next race and race after that will be his better races."

Robby Albarado has the mount.